As UN calls for calm Netanyahu says Israel prepared to expand Gaza operation

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The United States said Wednesday it supported Israel’s right to self-defense after it launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip, and condemned militant rocket attacks on southern Israel.

But U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement that “we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties” as it unveiled an operation targeting militant groups in the Palestinian territory.

Egypt’s foreign ministry condemned the attack and called for an immediate halt to the attacks.

The attacks came despite signs that Egypt had managed to broker a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants after a five-day surge in violence which saw more than 100 missiles fired out of Gaza and repeated Israeli strikes on the enclave.

“Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr condemned the series of air strikes that Israel is currently conducting against Gaza Strip and which led to the killing of Ahmed Al-Jaabari,” AFP reported the statement released by Egypt’s foreign ministry.

The statement said the Egyptian minister considered the “Israeli escalation to be very dangerous.”

Syria condemned Israel’s “atrocities” in the Gaza Strip where a series of air raids on Wednesday killed the Hamas military chief and at least six other Palestinians, calling for action from the international community.

“The Syrian government condemns the heinous atrocities committed by the enemy Israeli army against the Arab Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” it said in a statement carried by the official news agency SANA.

It urged the international community to “pressure Israel to stop the sinful aggression on our people in the defiant Gaza Strip.”

“Despite the risks of aggression, Syria will always remain faithful to its national and historical duty to the Palestinian people to recover their stolen lands and establish a free Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” it added.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani condemned the Israeli attacks.

“I condemn in the name of Qatar... This filthy crime must not pass without a punishment,” Sheikh Hamad told journalists after a meeting in the Saudi capital between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Foreign Ministers and their Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss Syria.

“The U.N. Security Council must shoulder its responsibilities in preserving peace and security in the world.”

Meanwhile, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi was preparing on Wednesday to organize an emergency Arab foreign ministerial meeting to respond to Israel air strikes on Gaza, a league official said.

Arabi had contacted Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, whose country temporarily heads the League, to prepare to convene the meeting following a request from Mursi, the official said.

Britain called for restraint, saying that further violence was in no one’s interests.

“We are aware of reports of the death of the senior Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari,” AFP reported the Foreign Office saying in a message posted on Twitter.

“We continue to call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent a dangerous escalation that would be in no one's interests.”

British Foreign Secretary William had warned at an EU-Arab League meeting in Cairo on Tuesday that the world was “in danger of sleep walking into a serious crisis” if there was no progress on the stalled Middle East peace process.

The Israeli military said his death marked the start of a military operation against armed groups in Gaza. Hamas’s military wing vowed to retaliate, warning that the killing had “opened the gates of Hell.”

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